Filmmaker Bernard Rose gives the period biopic a kick in the seat of the pants with this raucously creepy drama about 19th century violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini, who played so innovatively that people thought he had made a pact with the devil. Rose takes this idea and runs with it, stirring in modern-day ideas of fame and celebrity and finding a series of very clever ways to make violin-playing feel fresh and intriguing. So it's a little frustrating that the central figure remains so oddly out of reach.
After struggling to get anyone to pay him any attention in early 1800s Vienna, Nicolo (played by real violin prodigy David Garrett) signs his soul away to Urbani (Jared Harris), a fast-talking promoter who turns him into a celebrity across Europe. In London, musician Watson (Christian McKay) wants Nicolo to play the Royal Opera House and restore the local fortunes, so hawks his home to bring him over. When he finally arrives, the streets are full of screaming fans, clamouring tabloid hacks (including Joely Richardson) and women protesting Nicolo's notorious womanising and devil worship. But Watson, his mistress Elizabeth (Veronica Ferres) and daughter Charlotte (Andrea Deck) try to sooth Nicolo's artistic temperament. Of course, Nicolo is immediately smitten by Charlotte.
The film has a refreshingly free-wheeling tone, with handheld camerawork, whizzy editing and a continual sense of the music, which is played at high-energy in a variety of colourful locations. Every scene is also layered with bawdy intrigue, as characters mistrust and/or lust after each other. The seasoned cast members have a great time with this. Harris is gleefully sinister with his towering hat and sinister accent. McKay is haplessly eager for his ship to come in far against the odds. And Richardson goes enjoyably broad as a journalist willing to do anything for a scoop.
Continue reading: The Devil's Violinist Review
With their third present-day Tolstoy adaptation, filmmaker Rose and actor Huston continue to skilfully explore timeless issues with an urgent, modern style of storytelling that feels almost documentary. Based Master and Man, this film shifts a bit jarringly from a social comedy into a dark thriller. And its themes are less personally resonant than either Ivansxtc or The Kreutzer Sonata.
This time Huston plays Basil, a Los Angeles businessman struggling with very bad debts. To make some quick cash, he abandons his family on the day after Christmas, flying to Denver to buy up some foreclosed houses and make a quick profit. Once there he teams up with chauffeur Nick (Jacobs), who drives him from house to house, eventually heading up into secluded bedroom communities in the Rockies. But after hanging out in a bar for the afternoon, they get lost on an isolated road as darkness falls. And when they get stuck in the snow, their thoughts turn to survival.
With two characters on distinct sides of the 1/99 percent divide, the film is strikingly relevant today. Especially since both men are in such precarious positions and yet still have such disdain for each other. Boris continually mocks Nick for being unfamiliar with his own new car, while Nick never even tries to conceal his contempt for Basil's callous privilege. Both Huston and Jacobs make the most of this, throwing barbed wit into their ongoing conversation while also clearly trying to find some common ground. So the moments of genuine friendship are surprisingly warm.
Continue reading: Boxing Day Review
Born in a rugby-mad Welsh mining town, Howard Marks (Ifans) knew he didn't fit in and proved it by getting into Oxford against the odds. There he immediately falls into the early-1960s brainy/druggy crowd, dealing marijuana but never anything harder. Despite efforts to go straight, he continually returns to trafficking, arguing that it's not a crime to break an immoral law. But his associations with a notorious IRA terrorist (Thewlis) and a rule-bending Indian businessman (Djalili) attract the attentions of a tenacious American agent (Tosar).
Continue reading: Mr Nice Review
In the 1970's Howard Marks was one of the biggest weed smugglers in the world but the Welshman from the small town of Kenfig never indented to become such a major player in the industry. In the beginning Marks started out as a relatively minor drug dealer, supplying small amounts of dope but as his connections began to grow more opportunities became available.
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Edgar (Huston) has planned a benefit dinner in his home in aid of African war victims. The centrepiece of the evening will be a performance of Beethoven's Sonata No 9, performed by professional violinist Aidan (King) and Edgar's wife Abby (Röhm), who gave up her career as a concert pianist to raise his children.
But this sonata has a lusty history, and Edgar finds it impossible to believe that Aidan and Abby aren't having an affair. Consumed with jealousy, he considers taking the ultimate action against them.
Continue reading: The Kreutzer Sonata Review
In an effort to create another Amadeus, the film chooses to use Beethoven's will, wherein he leaves his estate to a nameless "immortal beloved," as the starting point for delving into Beethoven's past. Consequently, much of the film is interested in Beethoven's supposed relationships with the women around him. Here, the film somewhat takes leave of reality, playing fast and loose with the facts of Beethoven's life. In fact, the film's final claim of a certain woman as Beethoven's immortal beloved is considered absurd by most historians.
Continue reading: Immortal Beloved Review